written by C.E. Carroll


[This essay was written ca. 1955 by one of the original members of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.]

Depot11While today, in this area, we are quite liberally endowed with the means of transportation and communication, this has not always been the case. There was a time right here in Libertyville, when none of the things so essential, now, to our well-being and our happiness, even existed but we have, for so long a time, been able to take all of these blessings for granted that very few of us have ever considered what would be our situation if all of our means of transportation and communication were suddenly to cease operating.

We should have no cars or buses or railway trains or airplanes to ride in. No freight trains or trucks to carry food or fuel or other necessities of life. There would be no mail, no telephone or telegraph, no radio, (and horrors), no T.V. We still remember what a difference it made when the North Shore Rail road folded up; just one, rather small, means of transportation.

The early Indians traveled on foot, so did the first white men. When Hurlburt Swan found a piece of land that suited him, over in Fremont, in 1844, he walked to Chicago to pay for it and he walked back again, about 70 miles all together. His own two legs were the best transportation there was, at the time, for most of the way there was no road.

When Dr. Richard Murphy went to Springfield to attend the sessions of the Legislature he rode horseback, 400 miles round trip. If a man in Chicago had a message for a man at Little Fort he sent it by the Captain of a schooner and it would be delivered the first time there was a favorable wind.

Around 1836 things began to change. In that year a stage line was started to run on the so-called roads. The stages were just lumber wagons, at first, but they carried mail and people could ride on them. Steamboats had begun to run all the way from Buffalo to Chicago - sometimes took two weeks but that was a lot better than the overland trail. Canals were very popular in the Eastern States and though the pace was still slow, a team of horses could move many tons on a canal boat with the same effort it took for one ton on a wagon. The only canal in northern Illinois was the Illinois and Michigan which would seem to be too far away to affect us very much but it did. It brought the Irish emigrants to settle a large part of Deerfield and Shields townships.

Before 1850 railroads were beginning to stretch out into this Northwest territory. A line was built from Chicago to Galena in 1848 and in 1852 a company was incorporated to build a road from Chicago to the Wisconsin line thru Waukegan. This was the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad, locally called the "Parallel" since it ran parallel to the shore of Lake Michigan. This is now the Northwestern.

The first telegraph line was built into Lake County in 1849. It was known as the "Speed Line" and its wires were strung along the highway still called the Telegraph Road and along the present Waukegan Road. In 1850 another line, "The O'Reilly" was erected. Improvements on the roads and in the stage services had increased traffic on the stage routes so that towns like Wheeling, Half Day and Libertyville had begun to assume importance, but the coming of the railroad to the lake shore towns changed all this. The mail was now carried on the trains. The stage lines ceased to operate and the mail which they formerly transported was now brought to the inland towns by local carriers; for instance, the mail for Half Day was brought over from Highland Park.

Towns not on a railroad did not progress. This condition was so apparent to Libertyville that efforts were made to "lure" a railroad into this area. In 1854 a railroad company was chartered to run from Chicago to the Wisconsin line thru the towns of Des Plaines, Wheeling, Half Day and Libertyville. Part of the roadbed was graded but something stopped the construction; some say the management of the "Parallel" road bought them out, so they never laid a rail. We can still see a cut thru the ridge on the north side of Rte 176, just west of Vincent Baldwin's home but that is all that remains of the "Chicago & Des Plaines Railroad."

In 1872 the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad was planned to run from Chicago to Milwaukee and Libertyville's hopes rose again that this would be built on the west side of the Des Plaines but here was another disappointment. The nearest it came to our town was Rondout, then known as "Sulphur Glen." When we read today the names of the villages it did pass thru there are few that we recognize. There was: Oak Glen, Shermerville, Deerfield, Lancaster, Sulphur Glen, Warrenton and O'Plain.

Libertyville did finally achieve a railroad in 1880. This was a branch line from the Milwaukee & St. Paul at Rondout (which then called itself Libertyville Junction) to the present freight depot at Cook Avenue and First Street. The plans for this were laid in 1878 when a local Railroad Company was formed to negotiate with the Milwaukee Road for such an extension. The officers of the local company were; General Walter G. Newberry, President; George H. Schanck, Vice President; E.W. Parkhurst, Secretary-treasurer; Dr. Samuel Galloway, John Singer and Col. E.B. Messer, Directors.

Depot2The Milwaukee Road agreed to equip a spur track from Sulphur Glen and run one train per day, to and from Chicago, if the local company would grade the roadbed, build a bridge across the river and provide suitable depot grounds. The local company set to work to raise funds and to recruit labor. So important was this new railroad to the area that donations of money and labor came from people in Vernon, Warren and Fremont as well as Libertyville. Many farmers pledged $100.00 in labor to be worked out by a man and team at the rate of $1.50 per day.

Dances and other entertainment, held in Libertyville's Grove House, also brought in some money but it was a hard task to build a railroad with only subscribed cash and donated labor. The company had to meet claims, get right of way, pay labor, and fight law suits before they finally got the branch line operating, but service was finally begun on it in the Spring of 1860. A big celebration was held in May of that year when the first locomotive blew its whistle in Libertyville.

We now had modern transportation to the outside world for people and freight, and it ushered in a new era. During the next two years our town saw the building of two grain elevators, a hotel and livery stable, two lumber yards, some half dozen store buildings, two churches, and about twenty-five new homes. Several new businesses, including a newspaper, were launched and several subdivisions were laid out. By 1882 our little country town had become an incorporated village. Transportation did it!

Depot9It was in 1885 that the Wisconsin Central Railroad was built from Chicago north. This is now the Soo Line and its coming put such towns as Prairie View, Rockefeller (now Mundelein), Lake Villa and Antioch on the map, affording as it did a carrier for the live stock, grain and ice from those points.

In 1889-90 the present Elgin, Joliet and Eastern, The Outer Belt freight road, began operations under the name of the Waukegan & Southwestern R.R. This belt line intersected all of the trunk lines running out of Chicago. Though essentially a freight carrier, it did, in its early years, carry passengers in the caboose and publish its timetable in the local papers.

In 1900 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul built the Madison Division thru Libertyville. This opened up the County's lake region for summer resort purposes and made our town a real suburb, for the increased passenger service enabled Libertyville people to work in Chicago and commute, and it also brought many Chicago business men to this area to buy farms for country homes and to engage in the raising of blooded stock.

In 1897 Libertyville got its first telephones. In that year the Lake County Telephone Company was formed by F. B. Lovell and J. Fletcher Clark. Headquarters, including the switchboard, were in the back room of Lovell's Drugstore.

Depot4In 1903 a branch of the Chicago Milwaukee Electric road was built from Lake Bluff to Libertyville and this was extended to Rockefeller in 1904. This made Waukegan and all Northshore towns to Evanston accessible to these inland villages. During the time of Samuel Insull's control, the North Shore & Milwaukee Electric R.R. built the Skokie Valley line from Milwaukee to Chicago and inaugurated passenger service from Mundelein and Libertyville over this route in 1926.

But now Fortune's wheel has turned, again. Some of the towns left "high and dry" when the railroad replaced the stage coach are on top once more. The automobile and the truck have restored their accessibility and brought them prosperity in full measure, for thousands of city families and many industries now find them ideal locations.

Postcard images provided by the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society.